Congress has until midnight on Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 to pass either an appropriations bill or continuing resolution to fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown. Though a few options for that resolution are currently on the table, Republicans are struggling to agree on what that entails, according to reports, creating the looming threat of a shutdown for federal employees.
“Government shutdowns hurt federal workers, and it also hurts the American people, businesses and communities, and it is costly to the taxpayers and our economy,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in a call with Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Don Beyer, D-Va., as well as representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees. “These are individuals who work every day to keep our nation safe. They’re patriotic, hardworking Americans who keep our borders secure, food and water safe.”
Impact on federal employees will be determined by the type of CR Congress passes, if they are able to pass one at all.
According to Hoyer, the most likely bill that Republicans are currently working on is a basic continuing resolution with some additional defense funds that would keep the government in business until Jan. 19.
“Tonight, the Republicans are talking about and [will] maybe move something tomorrow, which looks something like this: a continuing resolution authorizing funding to Jan. 19 – that’s apparently the date they’ve chosen. It will have the Department of Defense, but not as they originally proposed having it all year. Because if they did that, from our perspective, the Senate Democrats are not buying it, we’re not buying it,” said Hoyer. “We’re not going to allow that. So the only thing the DoD bill is going to have is some anomalies that are necessary so that they can operate properly, but it will not be funded beyond Jan. 19. That, frankly, is not good for the Department of Defense and it’s not good for any other department or agency of our government. CRs are an admission of failure and they are an extraordinarily poor way to run an enterprise.”
Hoyer added that he believes the Children’s Health Insurance Program – a must for many Democrats – a patch for the Veterans Choice program and a four-month Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act extension will likely be included.
The FISA extension may be a sticking point in negotiations, as Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have voiced opposition to a long term or permanent extension of the act. They have said that they would agree to an extension that lasted “a few weeks,” which four months may or may not fall into, depending on interpretation.
The second, and most likely option according to some, is a basic “clean” CR that funds the government as is through Jan. 19. This effectively punts the decision on government spending to after the holidays.
Finally, Congress could fail to come to a decision and shut down the government, though Democrats have said they have no intention of allowing that to happen.
“Democrats do not want to shut down the government of the United States. Period. We’ve never done that purposefully, and we will not do it,” said Hoyer. “We also have told our Republican colleagues ‘there are certain things you need to get done.’”
The congressmen on the call also expressed disappointment in using a CR, with Hoyer characterizing it as a “chaotic retreat.’”
“It’s our understanding that they do not have a vote for a CR at this time, which I call a ‘Chaotic Retreat,’ but it’s better known, I suppose, as a ‘Continuing Resolution.’ But that resolution doesn’t have the votes of the Republican party at this time,” said Hoyer.
Impact on federal employees
A shutdown would have tremendous negative impact on federal employees, as many would be sent home without pay, while those deemed “essential” would be required to come in to work also without pay.
“In 2013, when Congress couldn’t agree on how to continue to fund the government, 2.1 million federal working people were forced to endure a total government shutdown. 850,00 employees were furloughed from their jobs for 13 days, and the rest of the federal workforce had to come in and do their work without being paid,” said J. David Cox Sr., national president of AFGE. “Most AFGE members make $50,000 or less a year, not a gigantic salary. They can’t afford a shutdown and they can’t afford missing their paychecks.”
Cardin and Beyer have proposed legislation, titled the Federal Employees Fair Treatment Act, that would ensure government employees would receive pay for the duration of the shutdown.
“There’s no assurance that they’ll be paid back once the government shutdown is over,” said Cardin. “That’s why it’s important that we pass the Federal Employees Fair Treatment Act that makes it clear that we’re not going to penalize our federal workers because Congress didn’t do their work.”
“In the worst, worst case that this government gets shut down, we will have this ready to go 30 seconds later to make sure that every federal employee gets full pay during the shutdown,” said Beyer.
The bill currently has only Democratic co-sponsors, and would require some Republican support in the event of a shutdown.
Federal employees will likely also see their pay or benefits impacted regardless of the CR that gets passed, according to Tom Khan, legislative director of AFGE.
“If and when a CR is agreed to and passes the congress, because it will have additional funding above the caps, Republicans are insisting that there be offsets to pay for it, and they make that assertion by expressing concern about a growing deficit,” said Khan. “If, in fact, offsets are included, in the past they have gone after federal employees. They have gone after our retirement benefits and our pay. And they really seem to turn federal employees into the ATM machine, the piggy bank, any time they want to cut spending.”
Those offsets could include:
- Mandatory increases in retirement contributions
- Cancelling FEHBP coverage for retired federal employees
- Changing formula for government subsidy of health insurance premiums to a voucher rather than a percentage
- Changing what employees pay for defined benefits
- Changing the formula for the G Fund for savings plans
- Potential pay freeze
A clean CR would not immediately trigger the need for offsets, according to Khan, but the newly-passed tax bill could require spending cuts to offset the incurred deficit.
“There’s different CRs floating around right now,” said Khan. “There’s one CR, that’s just a clean CR that is just an extension of existing funding through Jan. 19. If they use that CR, there would be no need to offset it. Then Republicans have a CR they’ve been working on, which increases defense spending, and does it for the full year, but keeps non-defense spending at a very low [Budget Control Act] cap level.”
“Ultimately, at some point or another, there will be a CR with a $200 billion discretionary spending increase, and that will be the vehicle for the discretionary offset that they’re talking about,” he said, adding that the time between now and Jan. 19 will likely be used to negotiate which offsets will be employed.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.